Atmospheric and well-written debut w/room for improvement
Brenna Yovanoff's debut novel, THE REPLACEMENT, takes place in the rainy and atmospheric Gentry, where the town's prosperity comes at a heavy price. Mackie Doyle has lived his entire life knowing he was different, knowing that he was the replacement for a human child stolen from the crib. Despite his family's admonishments to blend in, Mackie's allergies to blood and iron start to make him an easy target for attention. After the apparent death of a classmate's sister, Mackie is forced to learn more about the world he came from and how it influences the human world he inhabits. What Mackie finds puts his life, his identity, his family, his new relationship, and the entire town at risk.
THE REPLACEMENT introduces a dark and chilling world that was created via the author's solid, evocative writing. This writing focused on the main character's thoughts and provided an excellent sense of tone and place. Character development for the protagonist was strong, and it was refreshing to experience a male narrator who was sympathetic and reflective. Secondary characters added emotional depth, as did the depiction of a loving and supportive family. The obvious use of the story as an allegory for larger issues was also done well, such as the story's relation to the slim line dividing "us" from "them." Unlike so many other books, this novel is not part of a series, and it was a pleasure to finish it and have experienced a complete story arc.
Though THE REPLACEMENT was a novel I had hoped to love, it was one that I only liked. The writing was beautiful, but there were times I felt like the nuances and their meaning were not explained well enough to get the full impact intended by the author. This was frustrating for me, especially as a careful reader. While I liked Mackie, he sometimes seemed uneven in his characterization; for example, he perceived himself as a freakish, sickly outsider, but he had popular friends and a sexual self-confidence that one wouldn't expect. The relationship between Mackie and Tate also felt confusing, given his quick switch in the object of his attraction and in Tate's often-unfounded hot-cold treatment. The romantic or sexual scenes felt dropped in with little reason or build-up. The plot felt slow in parts, and the climactic scenes felt less impactful than hoped. Finally, there were some contradictions or a lack of clarity in parts of the mythology regarding the Morrigan's role and the strength and timing of Mackie's blood iron allergy.
Even though I had hoped to like THE REPLACEMENT more, I was impressed with Yovanoff's writing and her ability to create a palpable sense of mood and place. I look forward to her future books, not only for the prose, but for her ability to address meaningful themes within the context of a tale. I hope Yovanoff gives the reader just a little more insight and clarity into what we should see, though.